Helen Sedwick grew up in a theater family, spending many a vacation helping run a summer stock theater in the Poconos. From her theater years and from reading countless books, she fell in love with the power of the story to make us laugh, learn, love and cry. Her short stories have appeared in bosque magazine and Redwood Writers’ anthologies. Her novel COYOTE WINDS earned five-star reviews from ForeWord Reviews and Compulsion Reads and is an IndieBrag Medallion Winner. Helen is also a business attorney. In her latest release SELF-PUBLISHER’S LEGAL HANDBOOK, she uses 30 years of experience to show independent authors how to stay out of court and at their desks, writing their next books.
Stephanie: Hello, Helen! Thank you for chatting me with today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for you book, COYOTE WINDS. Please tell me a little about your book.
Helen: COYOTE WINDS weaves together the stories of two boys, living years apart.
In the 1930s, Myles brings home an injured coyote pup and is determined to tame him, just like his father is taming the land. For a time, both Myles and his father succeed. The coyote befriends the horses and the hog, and Myles’s father carves the prairie into fields of golden wheat. But when the rains cease and the winds blow, when dust seeps into everything they breathe, wear and eat, Myles wonders if they have made a mistake by trying to tame the untamable.
More than 70 years later, Myles’s grandson Andy tries to tune out his grandfather’s rambling stories about growing up on the prairie with a one-eyed coyote. But when Grandpa Myles dies, Andy wonders if shooting rabbits, building barns, even facing dust storms would be better than his mindless routine of algebra, soccer practice and community service. He sets out to discover what is left of the wild prairie.
Stephanie: Please share the historical significance of your story.
Helen: I was inspired to write COYOTE WINDS by my father’s stories of growing up in Eastern Colorado during the Dust Bowl. While there was plenty of blowing grit in this stories, he also talked about freedom. With the schools closed, he spent his days hunting pheasants, rabbits and rattlesnakes, including shooting wildly while riding on the front fender of a pickup truck. I wanted to contrast my father’s unfenced boyhood with the over-supervised life of a modern, suburban boy who “couldn’t ride a bike without a helmet, play soccer without pads, or ride in a car with a driver under thirty.”
As I researched the Dust Bowl, I discovered it is a classic example of American optimism; the can-do attitude that brought families to the frontier with dreams of owning land and feeding the world. For a few years, many succeeded. But “hope wears a blindfold.” The wind did what it always did–blow. The dreams that tore up the land gave the wind the weapon that ripped those dreams apart.
In every significant historical event there are thousands, if not millions, of smaller stories. Especially compelling are the times when people unknowingly bring about their own ruin. The Dust Bowl is one of those events.
In the modern day chapters, I explore what happens to a family that has lost the optimism, the faith in the American Dream. It’s not a better choice. This family’s tale reminds us that chasing a dream, even if it brings heartache, is better than not dreaming at all.
Stephanie: Helen, You mentioned to me in my questionnaire to you that the years leading up to the Dust Bowl, Coyote Winds explores a time when the American spirit was full of optimism, a time when a man was measured by what he produced, not what he could buy. The novel explores the can-do attitude that drew people to the frontier and examines the consequences of that spirit, both good and bad. Do you think Americans have that same spirit today? In your opinion do we face opposition in that mindset that a man is measured by what he produces, not what he can buy?
Helen: I think many Americans still have a can-do attitude, but feel discouraged for many reasons, including the shift to a technology-based economy.
Something valuable is lost when people are judged solely by what they can buy, which is the case in many communities. In earlier times, men and women earned respect in smaller communities as the town carpenter or tailor or teacher, or the head of an extended family, or a respected elder. These roles have been lost for many in our fast-moving, possession-focused culture. That is not for the better.
Stephanie: Surprisingly there is quite a few people who are not familiar with the, Dust Bowl. Could you please explain what it was?
Helen: Most people do not realize the Dust Bowl was one of the worse man-made ecological disasters in history. During the 1920s, farmers, believing in the power of tractors and fertilizers, plowed up grasslands in the southern prairie the size of Ohio. Scientists claimed that “rain would follow the plow.” But that area had always suffered droughts, and when long drought hit in the 1930s, all the newly plowed land blew away in the strong, prairie winds. Despite the best of intentions, tens of thousands of families lost their farms. Many traveled to California, which is the story of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Stephanie: What are Myles strengths and what is an example of how his strengths help him face the Great Depression and the prairie dying around him? And what is an example of a weaknesses that he might have?
Helen: Myles is an optimist. He likes to tell jokes and keep others happy. This positive attitude is his greatest strength and carried him through the struggles of his life. But it also blinded him to the consequences of his actions. It made him careless in a way that caused harm to others, harm he regretted all his life.
Stephanie: In explaining your inspiration for your book above, has writing this story made an impact on your life and what do you hope to bring to your readers with this story?
Helen: Writing COYOTE WINDS made me think a lot of American optimism and its effect on individuals as well as our society. That can-do spirit got us to the moon, but also brought on the Dust Bowl. It’s neither good nor bad; it’s complex. I grew to appreciate it as a gift.
In writing the book I thought about the importance of pursuing a dream in my own life. Yes, trying to live a dream, such as writing a book, is discouraging at times, but I would never want to give it up.
I try to communicate that message in COYOTE WINDS, that pursuing a dream, even if it brings heartache, is far better than not dreaming at all. I guess I am infected with American optimism.
Stephanie: How long did it take for you to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?
Helen: I wrote the first draft in three months, then rewrote the manuscript off and on for three years. I gave up on the project a few times, but the characters kept calling me back.
I wrote in a small bedroom in the back of our house that I converted into my office. It was cave-like and perfect for the hermit in me.
Stephanie: In writing this book, what have you learned about writing in general?
Helen: It’s hard to know where to start. For a novel, you must know your characters very well, even your villains. You must love their imperfections and contradictory impulses, since that is where you will find the heart of your story.
Some writers are naturally good at character development, others at plot. My strength is writing characters and setting; plot is more of a challenge. All my rewrites were related to plot. My advice is writers should relying on their strengths in creating their early drafts, and then revise to improve their weak areas.
Stephanie: What book project are you working on now?
Helen: Marketing the Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook has taken more time than I anticipated. I have more requests for guest posts than I can handle on top of a busy law practice. I am winding that down so I can get back to writing fiction. I would like to write a sequel to COYOTE WINDS, and I am working on a crime novel in which I can use my legal background in a new and fun way.
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Helen: I researched sites that reviewed and curated self-published books and came across it. With the tens of thousands of self-published books released each year, I was delighted to find a site that took the time to find the needles in the haystack without charging authors.
Stephanie: Where do you see the self-publishing industry in five to ten years and what has been your experience so far in this field?
Helen: Self-publishing is booming and will only get larger. It is an example of one of the good sides of technology. Publishing is now available for everyone with that dream.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Helen: Online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booksamillion and other online retailers.
In stores, at Copperfields Books here in California and Tattered Cover Books in Denver. Your local store can special order it.
I also do school visits in person or via Skype.
Stephanie: Thank you, Helen! It has been a pleasure chatting with you and I hope you visit Layered Pages again soon.
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A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Helen Sedwick, who is the author of, Coyote Winds, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Coyote Winds, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.